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Asa K. Butts to Walt Whitman, 29 September 1876

 loc.01193.003_large.jpg Dear sir

Yours of the 25th2 came duly. I hope there will be an effort made by the creditors to push C. P. S.3 to the extremity of the law.

That he obtained your goods & service under false pretenses is perfectly certain to my mind. I had placed confidence in him notwithstanding warnings from some freinds​ who didn't like his looks & even up to last Nov.​ or Dec.​ I put confidence in him & did every possible thing to help him. In one of those months for example (I can't remember to a day) I offered to pay at least $100 in payment of your claim in cash if he would let me have some property which he had no earthly use for viz some books which had once been in my private library a $150 bookcase which had been in my library  loc.01193.004_large.jpg  loc.01193.005_large.jpg 5 or 6 years before I thought of going into book business. He had much more shelving than he could use without it. In fact had some lying away entirely unused—I urged that it was his interest to pay you entire & secure your new book then announced, &c &c To make a long story short I used every inducement to make him pay the debts but he either shuffled, evaded or refused to do any thing. I bo't​ one of the claims under his solemn promise to give me $25— towards it on a certain day in Dec.​ . He utterly refused to let me have any money or even books which were mine under exemption laws had I elected to call them so. Since then I have not spoken to him or he to me. One of the creditors is now prosecuting him. I paying lawyers fees. His defense is a lie.

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I wish I could see you to give you all the points. However owing to a form of the contract you have an advantage over the other creditors. In one place he binds himself to pay you $200.00 (just what was due Dec​ 1st '74) In another place he binds himself to carry out all my contracts with you among other authors &c. This last is quite unconditional. The first with other debts were to be paid in four proportions as the goods were sold. Now do you know some able lawyer here in whom you have confidence who would make fees in accordance with the times & my (& your) purses? If so let me see him give him the points & pay enough to begin operations. I will work, as I have done for 3 or 4 years, day & night & sunday, to get justice out of this  loc.01193.008_large.jpg  loc.01193.009_large.jpg fellow for myself & my creditors. Your case is in the best shape of any of them & it is an outrage that you should not have been paid promptly as he most solemnly & repeatedly promised me you should be. He represented that he had several sources from which to obtain money each of which was quite beyond any contingency—(if you have no better acquaintance here) Perhaps the attorney of the suit (Donely & Co's claims) above named would do. I never knew him till 5 or 6 weeks since but am very well impressed. He is a man of some note, about your age & quite moderate so far in his charges. Perhaps you can otherwise learn of his reliability. The name is H. F. Pultry,4 67 Williams st​ However select any fair man & I'll pay the gelt to test the thing whether he can be made to pay up if it is not too much—

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I have been too hard at work in trying to pay other debts & support my large family to attend to this before. Now I wish to go into the book business again & I wish to get through with C. P. S. & all the debts he left unpaid. If I can do this without bankruptcy I'll be glad—But I weary you—I don't wish to wait for you to come to N. Y. I want proceedings begun at once. Please let me hear promptly & oblige

yours Asa K Butts  loc.01193.012_large.jpg  loc.01193.001_large.jpg  loc.01193.002_large.jpg

Asa K. Butts was a New York bookseller who went bankrupt in 1874. In the mid-1870s, Butts tried to help Whitman procure legal counsel during Whitman's difficulties with book agents who allegedly embezzled from him.


  • 1. This letter is addressed: Mr Walt Whitman | Camden. | N.J. It is postmarked: NEW-YORK | SEP 29 | 6 PM. [back]
  • 2. This letter has not been located. [back]
  • 3. Charles P. Somerby was one of the book dealers whom Walt Whitman termed "embezzlers." In 1875, Somerby assumed the liabilities of Butts & Co.; see Whitman's February 4, 1874, letter to Asa K. Butts & Company. This proved to be a matter of embarrassment to Somerby, who, in reply to a lost letter on March 16, 1875, was unable "to remit the amount you name at present." On May 5, 1875, he wrote: "It is very mortifying to me not to be in a position to send you even a small portion of the balance your due." On October 4, 1875, Somerby sent $10—his only cash payment: "Have made every exertion to raise the $200 you require, and find it utterly impossible to get it. . . . We had hoped that you would accept our offer to get out your new book, and thus more than discharge our indebtedness to you." On April 19, 1876, Somerby reported that "I have been losing, instead of gaining." On May 6, 1876, he sent Whitman a statement pertaining to some volumes; on May 12, 1876, he included a complete financial statement: in eighteen months he had made only one cash payment, and owed Walt Whitman $215.17. The firm was still unable to make a payment on September 28, 1876. In August 1877, Whitman received a notice of bankruptcy dated August 8, 1877, from, in his own words, "assignee [Josiah Fletcher, an attorney] of the rascal Chas P. Somerby." These manuscripts are in The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. [back]
  • 4. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
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